Casual Vacancy 2: MuggleMarch or A Modern Moonacre Manor

The profile in The New Yorker in the run-up last week to Casual Vacancy’s publication was titled ‘MuggleMarch’ in jesting suggestion that Ms. Rowling had written a second Middlemarch, George Eliot’s devastating “Portrait of Provincial Life,’ this time featuring Ms. Rowling’s despised bourgeois Muggles. A look at the Wikipedia entry for that work shows why the profile-interview’s title has taken hold as well as it has:

Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),[1] and the canvas is very broad.

Although it has some comical characters (Mr. Brooke, the “tiny aunt” Miss Noble) and comically named characters (Mrs. Dollop), Middlemarch is a work of realism. Through the voices and opinions of different characters we become aware of various broad issues of the day: the Great Reform Bill, the beginnings of the railways, the death of King George IV and the succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV). We learn something of the state of contemporary medical science. We also encounter the deeply reactionary mindset within a settled community facing the prospect of what to many is unwelcome change.

Read the whole entry for as interesting plot points. As rich as that West Country vein is, though for parallels twixt Eliot and Rowling and their intentions and delivery of ‘message,’ I think there’s another more immediate connection between Ms. Rowling’s Postmodern Political Parable (see thread #5) and Goudge’s Little White Horse. The Sweetlove family, the abbey in ruins, and the setting throughout I think are pointers to Loveday and the Merryweather’s in Ms. Rowling’s favorite children’s story. This, though, is that magical kingdom long after the fall and it’s hard to imagine a more painful re-telling of the story than this one.

Your thoughts, please on the Muggle-Middlemarch connections, my Goudge thesis, and your own ideas about this West Country nightmare’s literary antecedents. What hat-tips and echoes struck you on your first reading(s)? Did any of you think ‘Orwell’ and ‘Austen’ as we had anticipated? ‘Eliot’ and ‘Collette,’ not to mention ‘Nabokov’ seem to have been at least as influential…


  1. I thought more Dickens and Shakespeare. Dickens bc of the number of characters and Shakespearean tragedy bc of how messed up they all were.

  2. I agree with Joy. Before I read the book it seemed like it would be along the lines of Trollope or Gaskell. But the overall darkness reminded me much more of Dickens. And the grittiness of the characters and their actions.

  3. I think the comparison that sprang most quickly to mind for me was Austen. Austen does DRC (drawing room comedy). I very much enjoyed CV and I think I caught many Austen jokes, but what JKR is doing here is drawing room tragedy. Austen always ends with a good marriage. In CV you wonder who might end up with a good divorce. But the small small town issues of class and politics from Jane come right through on the pages of CV. And hasn’t JKR mentioned she is an Austen fan? To me to Potter series was an extended plea for racial and political tolerance. I view CV as a plea for social services. And THANK you for Mugglenet Acedemia, I adore it.

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